The Right to Be Manipulated

By Keith Kloor | March 5, 2014 12:09 pm

The list of supermarkets, companies and restaurants hopping aboard the anti-GMO train keeps growing. Last year Whole Foods and Chipotle made headlines for their pledges to go GMO-free. [CORRECTION: Only Chipotle has made that pledge; Whole Foods has committed to labeling any of its products that contain GMOs] Numerous food companies have already slapped such a label on their products.

This week big grocery chains like Safeway have followed suit with a pre-emptive decision to not carry genetically modified salmon (trademarked as AquaBounty), which is awaiting approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). As Treehugger notes:

Should the FDA green-light the fish, opponents of the salmon hope to block AquaBounty’s channels to the market. In that regard, today’s announcement seems like a major win. Kroger and Safeway join dozens of other grocery stores that have already promised to not carry the genetically engineered fish, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Meijer and Aldi.

Anti-biotechnology activists may have been on the losing end of recent GMO labeling ballot initiatives in Washington and California, but their broader campaign again genetically modified foods appears to be succeeding. Never mind that it’s a fundamentally dishonest and disingenuous campaign. It’s not about the “right to know,” it’s about the right to be scared by misinformation and fear-mongering rhetoric. It’s about the right to be manipulated by activists and food companies. As Steve Savage observes:

For most consumers, the information on food products is not part of a functional knowledge-base that could guide their food decisions.  Instead, they are left to be influenced by the advertising messages and ever-changing food fads that shape our “marketing of non-existence” food culture.

The latest company to jump aboard the GMO hysteria train is Smart Balance, which manufactures a highly processed substitute for butter.

Smart Balance

From the LA Times article on Smart Balance’s switch to GMO-free oils:

There is no definitive science showing such foods are harmful to human health when consumed. But critics say more time and testing are required to ensure safety, and that the process is unnatural and makes farmers beholden to a handful of seed manufacturers.

Just curious: Is the spreadable butter-like substance made by Smart Balance considered natural?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, food movement, GMOs
  • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

    typo ” but their broader campaign –again– genetically modified foods appears to be succeeding”.

  • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

    I agree that the anti-GMO movement does a lot of unnecessary fear mongering on safety of GMO foods. I believe they would be more effective if they would stick to the point that genetically modifying crops for resistance to herbicides is not a long term sustainable method of weed control. I believe our problem of overuse of herbicide is similar to our problem of overuse of antibiotics, and Roundup Ready type of GMOs are not helping our herbicide overuse problem. While I am not a big fan of herbicide resistant GMOs, I do like the Aquabounty salmon, provided that extra care is taken to ensure that those fish aren’t able to escape into the wild. I also like the thought of genetically modifying crops to use less incesticde and fungicide. Nevertheless, I don’t understand GMO-lovers problem with allowing labeling GMOs. Their resistance to allowing labeling of GMOs gives the public the impression that they have something to hide, is red meat to the anti-GMO movement, and I believe will ultimately not help the pro-GMO movement. I believe the average broke American will still continue to buy the cheaper GMO-labeled processed food vs the slightly more expensive non-GMO processed food if given the choice.

    • Cairenn Day

      Can you tell me how mandatory labeling of GMO foods would help me out?

      I am a struggling artist on a limited grocery budget. I do not want to be forced to spend an additional $400-$500 a year on a label that has no benefit to me.

      Why is there so much objection to voluntarily labeled non GMO food? Voluntary labels work for everything from Kosher and Halal (religious) to humane slaughter and fair trade (moral) to ‘ Angus beef and Jersey milk (‘better tasting’).

      Now another question. Can you name one product where a process used to make what goes into it, is required on the label?

      • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

        First, I would suggest that you not buy junk food, and use your food stamps (which I assume is applicable to you, being a struggling artist) to purchase non-processed foods. Unhealthy processed foods are the main foods that would be effected by GMO labeling. Second, I find it extremely hard to believe that labeling GMOs would cause any price increase in junk food or other GMO foods. Third, I believe the millions of dollars being spent by Junk Food companies to fight GMO labeling could be used to offset any price increased caused by short term repackaging cost caused by GMO labeling. Nevertheless, I am totally for voluntary labeling, and to be honest I don’t really care that much about the GMO labeling issue, as I don’t buy much processed foods. My point was that resistance to GMO labeling by junk food and agribusinesses is only making the anti-GMO movement stronger, similar to how overuse of Roundup makes Superweeds stronger, and overuse of antibiotics makes bacteria stronger :-) In regards to your last point, there are actually several different types of cheese that are required by law to be made in a certain fashion in order to be labeled as that particular type of cheese.

      • http://pythagoreancrank.com PythagoreanCrank

        How about “made from concentrate” as an example of a process mandated to be on a label?

        • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

          That is an excellent example.

          • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

            yes, I think voluntary labels are great, like for grass fed dairy and what not, and again I don’t really care one way or the other, I just think that the growing anti-GMO movement and public wanting to know is going to result in them requiring labeling. Also, I believe GMOs are labeled in China and Europe, and I don’t believe they spend $400-$500 more per month on their food, so I think it is possible to do cost effectively. By the way, did you know Neil Degrasse Tyson buys organic? https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/270191112109568000

          • Chris Kelly
          • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

            Yes, I know Neil deGrasse Tyson stance on GM foods, as it is the same as mine. I was just pointing out that he buys organic.

          • Jon

            Except in Europe where they don’t have to label GM produced cheese. If it’s GM techniques used for a product made in USA… BAN and/or LABEL in Europe… but if it GM yeast or bacteria developed in Europe… that gets a free pass.

          • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

            Other than short term repackaging/labeling cost, I can’t think of any reason why labeling GM cheese as such would result in higher price cheese. If you believe it would result in higher price cheese then I would love to hear your reasoning. I believe my point still remains true that labeling GMOs will have negligible effect on price of food.

        • Cairenn Day

          That is done to MAKE the product, like baking chips.

          What about how it was harvested?

          Every process is a voluntary label.

      • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

        First, I would recommend NOT buying junk food or processed foods, which are the main foods effected by GMO labeling. Second, I don’t believe labeling GMOs would cause price of junk food or other GMO foods to go up at all. Third, the millions of dollars being spent by the junk food companies to fight GMO labeling could be used instead to offset any negligible short term cost incurred in repacking as a result of labeling GMOs instead of passing cost to consumers. Nevertheless, I don’t really care that much about the GMO labeling issue because I don’t buy much processed foods. My point was that resistance to GMO labeling by junk food companies and agribusiness is causing the anti-GMO movement to grow stronger. Similar to how overuse of herbicide causes weeds to grow stronger and overuse of antibiotics causes bacteria to grow stronger. And, I am totally for voluntary labeling as well. In regards to your last questions, I believe that food manufacturers are required to label foods made with raw meat or fish as such, if the process of not cooking the meat is used to make product. Like sushi or prosciutto.

        • Cairenn Day

          Maybe you don’t realize that many farmers grow both GMO and non GMO crops. With mandatory labeling , they will have to segregate them, so will the mill, the storage facility, the shippers and even the producers. Then the store has to decide what is removed so they and put out the ‘Fear corn chips’.

          Lots of costs at every step in the process. Then there is the cost to defend against law suits.

          There have been at least 3 studies by economic depts of universities and the estimates are an additional $400-$500 a year on the average bill.

          How does a mandatory label help ME?

          Why is a voluntary label not sufficient ?

          • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

            First of all, I believe voluntary label is sufficient. Second, farmers already segregate their GMO crops from the non-GMO crops because the non-GMOs sell for a higher price. Third, my point again is that resistance to GMO labeling by junk food companies and agribusiness is making the anti-GMO movement stronger, and ultimately I believe that GMOs are going to have to be labeled (within a 10 years at most), So, they are fighting a fight that they are not going to win, and wasting a lot of money in the process.

  • BryanCooper

    I trust corporate America to produce safe and nutritious food. Why, they would never put in gmo corn any poisonous substance. Oh wait, they did. well BT corn is only poisonous to the insects, not babies. let’s all just wait and see how healthy the babies are that eat gmo corn – or meat from gmo fed corn. See their acidic stomaches will destroy ALL the poison so it won’t hurt them. In any case, its ok that is has poison – the FDA says so. Yay for the FDA! Thanks to them our canola oil only has a small amount of toxicity. Yay for the FDA! And only a few million tons of glutamic acid (the G in MSG) are added to our food yearly. But let’s not label these accurately cause THAT could scare the poor people out there. (Too bad those mean old socialist Europeans won’t let poor old Monsanto push their GMO lifesaving foods there) I sure hope our courageous food scientists can add more poisons to our food to secure our future.

    • http://theprogessivecontrarian.wordpress.com/ Bernie Mooney

      Take a science class.

    • bobito

      I hear this “BT is poison” reasoning a lot against GMOs. And, since you state “it’s only poisonous to insects” you seem to understand why it can be considered safe (unless I’m missing sarcasm on that).

      I’m assuming you eat chocolate and onions, both of those are poisonous to dogs. Dogs are certainly more similar to humans than insects are. Why are those “poisons” OK?

      Do you know why BT is poisonous to insects and not humans? It’s because BT is only poisonous to alkaline digestive systems, not acidic. Insects have alkaline digestive systems, humans have acidic.

      • BryanCooper

        thanks for illustrating why we TRUST the Monsanto’s of this world to make food safer for all of us. I mean ALL of us – including all the babies. Good thing their little stomaches can eliminate these poisons from their food! Yay for pesticides in our food! (apparently some here don’t know what sacasm is…So let’s all use exclamation points to refer to sacrasm! And question marks to refer to cynicism?)

        • bobito

          Are you trying to say babies have alkaline digestive systems??????????????

          • BryanCooper

            Wow! potentially LOTS!?! of cynicism ??? in your post. Not sure if I can count whether the final binary flag is positive or negative cynicism if you are using the ? cynicism ? flags as like cynical-on/off/on/off/etc..
            For those unable to understand my inferred distrust of Monsanto, the FDA and poorly read but strongly opinionated ‘scientific’ apologists for GMO factories: I don’t think most people currently understand that the FDA is counting on a baby’s stomach juice to break down a known pesticide so it doesn’t hurt them. But hey! must be GRAS by our vigilant FDA! Ok to give babies pesticides even though babies can be pesty at times. And thank YOU for repeating the party line! Double Yay for GMO Apologists! (To understand the sarcasm in that last sentence, read the instructions on use of exclamation points AND question marks in the previous comment)

          • bobito

            Clearly you are looking at this with an open mind!

          • BryanCooper

            here some more fun about how monsanto is secretly helping the bugs get stronger. they are now bt resistant! yay for the superbugs!

            http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/03/rootworm-resistance-bt-corn/

          • hyperzombie

            Bryan, you do realize that Bt is the most common organic pesticide and it is in all Organic baby food as well, it is also in the air that we breath and in the soil. You could eat the stuff right out of the box if you wanted, and although it most likely does not taste very good, it will not harm you one bit. Bt only affects some types of caterpillars and that is it. here is the safety sheet for it…http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/pesticides/infosheets/bt.pdf

          • independent thinker

            I am not overly concerned about BT in the foods I eat however the rise of BT chromosomes in certain food crops coincides with the increase of colony collapse disorder in our honeybee population.
            A much bigger concern is the Roundup resistant crops that can be sprayed with massive amounts of Roundup without hurting the food crop plants. The food from these plants have been shown to have significant amounts of glyphosate (Roundup) in them. Glyphosate has been linked to a number of health problems so I would prefer to avoid ingesting it if at all possible.

          • bobito

            Bees don’t eat crops, so having BT engineered into the plant would be a plus. BT use in standard and organic farming would be to blame if BT is in fact contributing to colony collapse…

          • independent thinker

            Bees do eat crops in a way, they collect the pollen from the plants and carry it back to their hives and that pollen would have the BT gene in it. I am not saying this is THE cause of colony collapse disorder because there are other factors involved but the parallels are to obvious to be ignored.

          • bobito

            Ah, hadn’t considered that. One generally thinks of flowering plants when it comes to pollen. I didn’t realize Bees were able to harvest pollen from non-flowering plants like corn.

          • Michael Phillips

            Corn is a flowering plant. The part you eat is the seed. Male flowers are called tassels and the female flower is called silk.

          • bobito

            Learn something new every day!

          • Michael Phillips

            “I am not saying this is THE cause…”
            Yes, that’s what you’re saying. And no, there are no parallels except what you are imagining. How exactly would pollen containing the Bt gene kill bees? Have you considered the role of mites in CCD?

          • independent thinker

            “… because there are other factors involved …”
            Apparently you suffer from reading and comprehension dissonance because that part of my comment covers the mites and other things affecting the bees. In fact from what I have read in the past the mites are taking advantage of the bee’s weakened condition caused by BT as well as other chemicals that are in the nectar and pollen the bees collect.

          • Michael Phillips

            Do you have evidence Bt is behind CCD or that glyphosate has apreciable toxicity compared to table salt?

          • independent thinker
          • Michael Phillips

            That only links to a picture of their logo

          • independent thinker

            Look up
            Health hazards of roundup & glyphosate.

          • Michael Phillips

            You’re not helping this conversation.

        • DrDenim

          Since you’re for less pesticide use I assume you’re pro monsanto’s more efficient (and thus require less) versus the inefficient organic pesticides where they use more?
          Good to know, I agree

      • independent thinker

        “I’m assuming you eat chocolate and onions, both of those are poisonous to dogs. ”
        This has nothing to do with the discussion. Both squirrels and deer eat mushrooms that are deadly to humans with no ill effects.

        • bobito

          This thread has sprawled a bit. That was in response to BryanCooper’s “they would never put in gmo corn any poisonous substance” when referencing BT Corn.

          I was trying to show how a we consume things that are poisonous to other creatures all the time, and was wondering why he had a problem with BT.

    • DrDenim

      Apples contain cyanide! Eradicate them all!

      • independent thinker

        Apple SEED contain cyanide. I know of no one that eats apple seed.

        • Michael Cooney

          I do.

          • independent thinker

            Now I know of one person.

  • Landry Jeffrey

    The latest discussions about GMOs over pesticides and will they help feed the growing population globally? I personally as a individual consumer will skip them both if possible thanks to those who rally against. The spread? Well I do not though but oddly enough that I just recently was on a meatless no sugar diet that was and is “natural”. I just started eating a spread by Earth Balance and have asked that same question every time I fake my taste buds out. Omega threes, vegan, no GMOs….taste great… I think do more research on all of the above and skip them until I can make out what is best for me, the globe is on their own.

    • Michael Phillips

      Why aren’t you concerned about GMOs created through mutagenesis or hybridization? Why the fixation on GMOs created through transformation only?

  • disqus_hqohpf0TPo

    I have a suspicion that big-food companies are probably lobbying the markets as well. Why would they want cheaper alternatives to cut into their profits?
    The same terror campaign that worked for big-Oil can work for big-Food

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    Hang on a second, Keith. The grocery stores did not promise not to carry the GMO salmon, they actually said that they “have no plans” to do so, which is not a commitment not to sell it in the future. This is Safeway’s statement:
    “To date, the FDA has not approved any GE salmon for human consumption. Should GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon. The seafood products we offer will continue to be selected consistent with our Responsible Seafood Purchasing Policy, Responsible Sourcing Commitment and our partnership with FishWise.”
    Parse the words. There’s no promise in there. You’ve been manipulated by Food & Water Watch’s wishful thinking!

    “Should
    GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any
    plans to carry GE salmon. The seafood products we offer will continue to
    be selected consistent with our Responsible Seafood Purchasing Policy,
    Responsible Sourcing Commitment and our partnership with FishWise.” –
    See more at:
    http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2014-03-kroger-safeway-join-trend-away-from-gmo-food#sthash.AaSPWVSF.dpuf
    Should
    GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any
    plans to carry GE salmon. The seafood products we offer will continue to
    be selected consistent with our Responsible Seafood Purchasing Policy,
    Responsible Sourcing Commitment and our partnership with FishWise. – See
    more at:
    http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2014-03-kroger-safeway-join-trend-away-from-gmo-food#sthash.AaSPWVSF.dpuf
    “Should
    GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any
    plans to carry GE salmon. The seafood products we offer will continue to
    be selected consistent with our Responsible Seafood Purchasing Policy,
    Responsible Sourcing Commitment and our partnership with FishWise.” –
    See more at:
    http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2014-03-kroger-safeway-join-trend-away-from-gmo-food#sthash.AaSPWVSF.dpuf

  • http://pythagoreancrank.com PythagoreanCrank

    As someone who avoids animal products myself it peeves me when the alternative products make as these disingenuous claims. I once spent several months hounding one particular vegan cheese company to tell me why they were “non-GMO” to finally spend several hours on the phone with their food scientist who could finally only tell me “the consumers want it”. All this talk of BigAg only doing it for the money as if anybody else is different. The consumer gets thrown under the bus while getting their pockets picked.

    • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

      By the way, you can use the white sap from a green fig branch to make cheese instead of calf rennet.

  • Michael Phillips

    I frequently hear anti-GMO activists ask why food companies spend money to block labeling intiatives instead of proudly advertising their GMOs as such. I think it is obvious. Activists have spent millions demonizing the term ‘GMO’ and want to capitalize on this campaign by using the GMO label as a weapon to force those products off the market. But corporations want to sell their products of course, so they are trying to avoid being forced to wear what is essentially a scarlet letter. Considering the misleading nature of the GMO label (everything in the
    store is a GMO by one technique or another), I can understand their
    opposition to having their products unfairly branded as dangerous when
    no such evidence exists. The right-to-know movement is more about the “right to ban” products that activists oppose due to their ideology about what constitutes “natural”, a pseudo-religious belief based on the naturalistic fallacy.

    The hypocrisy of an activist tweeting their opposition to unnatural foods, sent from an iPhone, is too much. If you consider that most products on the organic shelf were created recently through mutageneis-based GM (chemical or ionizing radiation-based genetic modification), you might appreciate the hypocrisy of labeling only those GMO products generated by transformation, as if hybridization and mutagenesis did not carry equal or greater risks (all of which are far lower than the risk of E. coli poisoning from organic sprouts).

    Ironically, the right-to-know movement is about anything but “knowing” since labeling would never describe the transgene, promoter, copy number, enzyme activity, insertion site, toxicity data, or any other relevant information. It wouldn’t fit on the label. And the general public doesn’t really want to know the relevant information anyway. They have no patience for it. They just want to shop without fear. This blatant appeal to fear is just the green/holistic/organic/spiritual marketing sector trying to gain a market advantage using whatever tactics it can get away with, justified by a pseudo-religious zealotry for nature that ignores our tendency to unnaturally engineer every aspect of our existence, including our medicine, our transportation, our clothing, our homes, and of course, our food.

  • mem_somerville

    I can’t figure out who put those groups in charge of whether I’m allowed to have this salmon or not. No salmon for you! No apple for you! No potato for you!

  • J M

    Human nature is astonishing. People casually engage in or tolerate activities such as smoking and drinking which produce well- documented harms and millions of dead annually. A technology which is yet to produce a single victim after hundreds of millions of people have been exposed to it is demonized and declared a threat.

  • DrDenim

    So they campaigned for GMO labels so consumers would have “choice”, but now want to prevent stores from stocking this salmon, so we won’t even be able to make a choice to buy it, or not? Neat

  • Matthew Slyfield

    The non-GMO label for Smart Balance is easy, after all the product is almost entirely synthetic.

  • J M

    It’s all about priorities. Look who jumped on the bandwagon in 2012:

    DAMASCUS — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, where more than 33,000 people have been killed in 19 months of conflict, issued a law on GM food Thursday to preserve human life, state-run SANA news agency reported.

    Assad, whose forces are locked in a bloody confrontation with armed rebels opposed to his rule, “has approved a law on the health security of genetically modified organisms… to regulate their use and production,” SANA reported.

    The law is meant “to preserve the health of human beings, animals, vegetables and the environment,” the agency added.

    Violence in Syria has killed at least 33,000 people, most of them civilians, since it erupted in March last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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